I Lived in a Red House

I became what I was meant to be. I built myself a life. I built myself a house. ~Life as a House

When we sold our house last year, our sweet Realtor sat us down at the beginning of the process to explain this was a business transaction only. She said sometimes clients get upset because they don’t necessarily like the new people who will live in their house. She advised to separate ourselves emotionally from the house so we could sell it. We laughed. We told her we weren’t attached. We understood the process. We liked the house. But it was just a house. It was our shelter, nothing more.

The truth is, I’ve never been emotionally attached to a house. We moved about every three years when I was a kid. All these moves were within the Russellville city limits, so my life wasn’t disrupted in any way. They were just new addresses. It was as simple as that.

Change can be so constant you don’t even feel the difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don’t even notice that your life is better or worse, until it is. Or it can just blow you away, make you something different in an instant. It happened to me. ~Life as a House

Until I was 16. That was when I went live with my grandparents. The two years with them were tough. That grandmother doesn’t like me much. I don’t think she likes anybody much. It’s not easy to live in a house with a woman who so openly despises you. My teen angst did nothing to improve the situation. My mom did the best she could to keep the peace between all of us, but there was no way around how miserable I was living there.

The house itself was a paradox. My grandfather built it himself with great love, but he was an 80 per center, meaning most of his projects were about 80 per cent done. The house was no exception. Few of the light switches had cover plates. Door frames were made of multiple kinds of trim. Paint almost matched. These were the things you noticed if you ever saw past the piles of junk everywhere. My grandmother could give the people on “Hoarders” a run for their money. If you dared move anything or clean, she would berate you. As if the inside weren’t bad enough, she painted the outside red. Fire engine red. There was a burned out trailer across the dirt road and some shacks on the property some distant relatives would take up residence in from time to time.

While I’ve never attached myself to any property, this house somehow attached itself to me. I was ashamed to live there. I know what a bad grandchild it makes me to admit that. But I was. Very few friends ever saw where I lived. Some looked at me differently once they knew where I was from. A few made white trash jokes. What could I say? I lived in that red house. A sliver of that shame has stuck with me for most of my life. I’m the girl who lived in the red house. And even if no one else knew, I did.

I have hated this house from the moment my father put it in my name. Imagine, 29 years of hating what you’re living in, hating what you are. This is the end of it, Sam. I’m finally building something of my own. ~Life as a House

Honestly, I try not to think about that time very much now. I ran as far and as fast as I could from that red house the moment I graduated high school. I went to college, then to grad school. I got married. I’ve had some success in my career. We’re raising a great kid, and he lives in a comfortable, clean house. (I’m calling it clean even if there is laundry piled in my living room.)

Somehow the red house came up in conversation the other day with a group of friends. I told them I could never be too big for my britches because I’d lived in a red house, and you never get over that. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since then. It bothers me that nearly 20 years later, it still bothers me I lived there.

With every crash of every wave, I hear something now. I never listened before. I’m on the edge of cliff… listening… almost finished. If you were house, Sam, this is where you would want to be built: on rock, facing the sea, listening… listening. ~Life as a House

I don’t know if anyone ever overcomes her raising. I don’t really believe there’s a reason for everything. I think a lot of stuff happens for no reason at all. But maybe being the girl who lived in the red house has made me more empathetic to others. Maybe it pushed me further than I would have gone otherwise. Maybe everyone has a red house.

All I really know is this is the part of my life where I stand still and listen. I’ve finally stopped running from the red house. I know my feet are on rock, so I’m solid. And for the first time, I have faith I will hear.



Filed under The view from here

7 responses to “I Lived in a Red House

  1. One: I love you.

    Two: for me it’s a green house. Olive green. Avocado green. When my parents bought it, the man who sold them the property made them promise they wouldn’t live in it, they’d just tear it down and buy a new house, it wasn’t a place to raise kids. And yet we lived in it for over 15 years. Only very special friends (like our own Savannah B) got to see it. We had chickens in the front yard and an actual car on blocks. We had to put out pots and pans to catch the leaks when it rained. We didn’t have air conditioning or heat, and my dad heated the house with a wood burning stove, which meant everything was dusty and smoky all the time. We had bugs. We had drafts. We had dirt. We had a dock that was always half sunk in the lake. We had a deep freezer full of dead birds that my dad considered his “specimens.” And I was always ashamed of the place. People thought I was a doctor’s kid, as if that meant I lived in a fancy subdivision. They didn’t know my daddy worked just enough shifts to get by and liked living in a ramshackle house that was falling down around us.

    I have never been so happy for my mom than the day I helped her move into their “new” house.

  2. Thank you for sharing.
    Deep in my heart is a little girl who is so ashamed of what she came from that she hides it away, fearful that if anyone she knew today knew about it, they would cast her aside like all the other kids did way back when.
    I too have a little red house.

  3. There was no special color to our house (it was brick) but I sort of know how you feel. My grandfather built the house I grew up in, and there is no way it was even 80% complete. He died when I was 4 and my grandmother moved to Tulsa and asked us to stay in the house.

    When they built it the house was out in the middle of the country, but soon the trashy part of town built up around it. We were always stuck there though because my mom felt an obligation to stay in the house. I absolutely hated it.

  4. Ugh- I was the girl who lived in an apartment while all my friends had houses, big houses, houses that cost lots of $$. We were poor. But, like you said, it pushed me to be successful.

  5. jblocker

    I was just thinking about this the other day, as you say growing up poor can push you to go further in life, as it did me.

    However, someone said something untowards to me the other day and I let them know right quick and in a hurry. I may live in the big city, have a nice house, well-educated, and a respected career, but if anyone messes with me or mine, please know that I can always revert back to my white trash, ghetto, delta ways, do not ever fool yourself into thinking I’ve become a pushover.

    So in some ways I guess I’m proud I grew up hard.

  6. Chaska

    I had a version of the red house as well. It will always be a part of what made me and drove me to work hard for everything. It is long gone by now, yet every time I drive by that land where it was and see new big “doctor houses”… all I see is the house that stood there before. The past is still there.

    This has to be my all time favorite Damn You Little Rock post.

    Love ya girl.